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Pope Francis is right to be cautious about distributing Communion

‘If you are out of communion on a matter as fundamental as the right to life, surely you have chosen to cut yourself off from the community of fellow worshippers’ says Francis Phillips

By on Friday, 17 May 2013

Pope Francis celebrates the Eucharist during Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome Photo:CNS

Pope Francis celebrates the Eucharist during Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome Photo:CNS

In his blog for May 9, the veteran Italian commentator, Sandro Magister, explains why Pope Francis doesn’t give Communion when he is celebrating Mass, except in rare cases. Although the Holy Father has given no explicit explanation himself of why he has chosen this course, Magister points out that “there is one page in a book he published in 2010 that allows one to infer the motives at the origin of this practice.” In the book, the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires refers to parishioners “who have killed… indirectly, with improper management of capital, paying unjust wages…We know that they pass themselves off as Catholics but practice indecent behaviour of which they do not repent. For this reason, on some occasions I do not give Communion, I stay back and let assistants do it because I do not want these persons to approach me for a photo.”

Bergoglio continued: “One may also deny Communion to a known sinner who has not repented” but acknowledged that “it is very difficult to prove these things.” He added, “Receiving Communion means receiving the body of the Lord, with the awareness of forming a community. But if a man, rather than uniting the people of God, has devastated the lives of many persons, he cannot receive Communion. It would be a total contradiction.” He described such behaviour as “spiritual hypocrisy” and “leading a double life.”

Magister comments that the Holy Father might sense the same danger, now that he is Pope, and so “for this reason, he would be adopting the same prudential conduct.” The then Archbishop used the example of economic malpractice, but as Magister comments, the same principle applies to “public support for pro-abortion laws on the part of politicians who profess themselves to be Catholic.” He also points out that on March 19, for the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis’s pontificate, Vice- President Joe Biden and Leader of the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, both publicly pro-abortion and both Catholic, were present “and both received Communion” – but not from the hands of the Pope “who was seated behind the altar.”

In a further commentary on this principle, CFNews for May 12 has an item about the Republic of Ireland. It seems that Cardinal Sean Brady has stated that the Irish bishops have not considered barring politicians who vote to legalise abortion from receiving Communion. This is currently a pressing concern in the Republic, as on April 30 the coalition government introduced a “Protection of Life during Pregnancy” bill which would allow doctors to abort a child in cases where the mother’s life is threatened – including if she threatens suicide, a very wide and loose provision. According to Cardinal Brady – clearly picking his words carefully – politicians “would have to follow their own conscience” and that among the bishops “there would be a great reluctance to politicize the Eucharist.”

What on earth can he mean by this? Surely receiving Communion signifies being in communion with your fellow communicants within the ecclesial community? And if you are out of communion on a matter as fundamental as the right to life, surely you have chosen to cut yourself off from the community of fellow worshippers? Father Ray Blake, a popular blogger, quoted in the same CFNews item above, writes of the “hypocrisy and cant” of many ecclesiastics, adding that Cardinal Brady “wishes to strip the Eucharist of any meaning of Communion, or morality, and render it a meaningless symbol.” He commented, “What Brady seems to be suggesting is that there should be no connection with morality and belief.”

Former Pope Benedict XVI would seem to agree with Fr Ray Blake rather than with Cardinal Brady. In a letter of 2004 to the US bishops, entitled “Worthiness to receive Holy Communion”, the then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that when politicians continue to have “formal cooperation” with abortion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” to him. No problems here with scruples about “politicization” I note.
See in this light, and to avoid all possible scandal, Pope Francis’s behaviour seems entirely prudent.

  • teigitur

    Poor old Cardinal Brady. Wrong again.

  • Cestius

    Cannot help wondering what goes through the minds of pro-abortionists and others that publicly defy church teaching as they queue up for communion. Of course if the priest or bishop knows about it, they should be refused, but the primary duty is on those going forward to receive. St. Paul makes it abundantly clear that anyone who disobeys or defies church teaching without repenting and then takes Communion brings damnation upon themselves. How can they not understand this?

  • Alba

    I don’t think the Irish bishops were too big on refusing Communion to known terrorists and their sympathizers, either.

  • Pizzharo lamechkxs Mary ogwal

    Of course fellow Catholics Holy communion is not a procession where you are free to receive at will. check and examine your inner conscience first otherwise you will not deceive God but fooling your own soul and condemning it to hell.
    Indeed Holy Father is definately right.

  • Sara_TMS_again

    I would have thought that Francis was more worried about communion with Mugabe than Biden and Pelosi.

  • NYer

    While I certainly agree with the Holy Father that pro-abortionist politicians and others who publicly oppose Church teaching should not present themselves for Holy Communion, I am ambivalent about his decision to refrain from distributing Communion in general. It simply results in the other priests having to do “the dirty deed”.
    The Eucharist is the Lord, no matter who distributes it. None of us is worthy to receive it.

  • Ghengis

    It takes courage to take a stand and deny someone communion. Courage is in short supply these days as our men have been taught to be nice rather than be strong. Of course one can be both but its rare to see the proper balance.

  • paulpriest

    Pope Francis is the Servant of Servants who is above all a priest…commanded to confect and distribute the Blessed Sacrament.
    It’s his prime role!
    Any ‘prudential’ [ye gods how that word has become bastardised! prudence does not mean cowardice] equivocation making him reticent to perform this role….is a mistake!

  • http://www.facebook.com/cathy.corbett.1253 Cathy Corbett

    what about the priests and bishops who gave Holy Communion to priests and bishops who they knew were abusers. the priests who gave Communion to the nuns in the Magdelene Laundries etc. Did Pope
    Benedict ever refuse any of those under investigation for sexual abuse ? Doubt it.

  • Benedict Carter

    Have the likes of Pelosi and Biden actually have been denied Holy Communion even once by any priest in the US?

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    1) You really shouldn’t swallow up every single piece of malicious gossip about the nuns in the Magdelene Laundries

    2) You should not confuse the salvific power of Holy Eucharist with any worldly matters, even such deeply grave ones as sexual predators in the clergy

    3) Most of “those under investigation for sexual abuse” are innocent, given that I believe something like 80%-90% of accusations made against priests are false — the same is true in the teaching profession BTW

  • $24570317

    “You really shouldn’t swallow UP every single piece..” (my capitals)

    Although you are outstandingly adept at standing any factual matter “on its head”, and may be skilled at doing this to yourself, Cathy Corbett strikes me as an upright individual.

    You are also living proof that 80% to 90% of statistics are made-up “on the hoof”.

  • raffer

    this is a logical fallacy. a straw man argument

  • $24570317

    Cathy Corbett provides a useful insight. There is no straw man or lack of logic.
    The Church and its apologists are fixated about “abortion” – as if abortion were a single, simple idea.

    The ingestion of the morning-after pill and the abortion of a highly developed embryo are so obviously very different things. Yet the Church maintains they are equivalent.
    This is the same mindset that talks of the successfully implanted embryo’s “brothers and sisters” being left “swimming around in the petri dish”.

    This description concerning in-vitro fertilisation (together with one or two further and related views) is so unbelievably bizarre that it causes the Church’s views on abortion (generally) to be dismissed as absurd.
    It is the insistence on these bizarre views that in practice promotes unjustified abortions, as it effectively silences the Church’s voice.

  • raffer

    Cathy’s argument apart from being a straw man argument is
    flawed on many levels. for example if someone commits genocide, has an abortion
    or aids one, abuses children, or worships satan, chances are either because of
    these crimes or what they believe, they have been automatically excommunicated. although
    this is a broad stroke of the brush. Jesus reserved his harshest critism for those that would hurt children,this no doubt includes both abortion and abusing children.
    This does not mean that they can never receive Jesus in the Eucharist
    ever again. It means they have to seek forgiveness from God via the confession
    or obtain perfect contrition prior to receiving. If someone holds to a heresy
    or does not seek forgiveness then they can’t receive Jesus in communion. Nearly
    all the main individuals in the bible both old and new testament bar the holy family
    were shown to be flawed, so why would anyone else be different.

    As for your claim, that the church’s views are bizarre on abortion, that’s
    simply your humble opinion and totally irrelevant to the debate on the CC allowing pro abortion figures recieve communion in the CC

  • Judy

    Did those who distributed Holy Communion to the Vice President and N. Pelosi not know who they were? If, indeed, they knew who they were, why, then, were they allowed to receive?

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    You are also living proof that 80% to 90% of statistics are made-up “on the hoof”

    Speak for your own “statistics” — I have based mine on the contents of multiple professional Police inquiries into allegations of sexual abuse upon minors. False accusations against members of any professions working with children make up the vast majority of such claims against them.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    Judy, many priests not knowing of the state of those individuals’ souls, particularly in relation to confession, would be in no position to refuse communion to them, in the lack of any clear instruction on the matter from these people’s curate priests and Bishops.

    Apparently, madam Pelosi attends Mass at an overtly pro-gay ultra-liberal anti-Tradition parish, so I doubt that the curate will be refusing communion to any abortionists in the congregation, so that her Bishop is therefore at fault in this case, not only for allowing her to continue receiving Communion, but also for letting this most probably openly homosexual clergyman to foment these sorts of ravages against the Faith in the first place — http://custosfidei.blogspot.fr/2007/05/nancy-pelosi-in-houston-attending-mass.html

    Joe Biden’s home parish is just another run-of-the-mill American parish that has been infected with modernism and relativism, so that it’s sadly unsurprising that his curate doesn’t enforce Church doctrine in this matter.

  • $24570317

    I broadly agree your last sentence Jabba (depending on the intended meaning of “vast”).
    However recent experience has shown that there is also a “vast” pool of hidden sexual abuse of minors.
    Whether these two groups balance out fairly equally, or not, is hardly the point.

  • Someone who recqonisies False

    Are ye all forgetting about the abuse ye priests and nuns put on Innocent children in years gone by .

    Why are ye still being allowed to receive communion .

    Take them down from their stands.

    Ye are quick to Point a finger at another –Look at your self firstly.

    Hyprocity begins at home with ye Nuns and Priests — Not all — but it has been in the tabloids.

  • Against Falseness.

    I totally agree with you Cathy.

    Time they were taken down from their places on high — How would they like it if same was done tho them ?.

    it still goes on to a degree –and I do not want a comment from JabbaPapa — go and talk to the toilet .or a mirror.

    Have a good day Cathy and glad you are your self .

  • andHarry

    ‘Jesus reserved his harshest critism for those that would hurt children, ..’

    It was aimed at those who would hurt His children; members of His Church; those who come and go ‘in His name’.

    ‘Nearly all the main individuals in the bible both old and new testament bar the holy family were shown to be flawed,..’

    Actually if you read the gospels like a little child you will discover that what you refer to as ‘the holy family’, was a seriously dysfunctional family; greatly increasing the problems the ‘man of sorrows’ encountered in his walk with his Father. Eventually He had ‘nowhere to lay his head’.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    a seriously dysfunctional family

    This kind of modish, worldly-minded, self-centred revisionism is of no value at all.

  • raffer

    JabbaPapa, his response is simply gibberish.

  • Frank

    It seems straightforward to me. We all know the church’s teaching regarding receipt of the Blessed Sacrament. If politicians publicly state their support for policies promoting abortion then it seems entirely appropriate to remind them of “spiritual hypocrisy”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.abraham.37 Matthew Abraham

    Taking communion is between you and God and should never be denied by a priest or anyone else they are the distributors they are not there to judge. That is our weakness as humans we are all desperately wanting to judge one another, it is a sin you know and that is the Word of the Lord or did He change His mind? like eating meat on Friday, touching the Eucharist with your hands etc etc etc.They were mortal sins back then in my day, was God confused, was the Church confused or did the devil score a point, hes real. All this cannot be denied,we cannot comprehend how God thinks we would be silly to try. God gave us all the gift of free will and even He will not interfere with it.The worst sin we commit is causing pain and anguish to another because if that sin was not committed no other sin would follow , think about it Our Father of Ultimate love is so right.

  • Ben Trovato

    Are you saying that you would expect a priest to give Holy Communion to absolutely anybody in absolutely any situation? Scarcely a tenable position?

  • Scyptical Chymist

    The more one learns about our new Pope the more some unease starts to creep in. I knew nothing about his previous record in his Archdiocese except his penchant for public transport and concern for the poor but my attention was drawn to a large public Mass he celebrated with some extremely odd accompaniment. It also is worrying that the principal celebrant of a Mass does not give out Holy Communion. This does not augur well for liturgical reform. He does seem to be emphasizing his humility perhaps, giving the impression (I hope wrongly) that like a politician he is courting the popularity of the press and television who certainly are giving him a pop reception. I yearn for a leader who will get to grips with the evils around us and help us in our struggle – “the hungry sheep look up and are not fed”.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    my attention was drawn to a large public Mass he celebrated with some extremely odd accompaniment

    great numbers of lies have been spread about this — in fact, this is an artefact created by some incompetent video editor who spliced some images from a children’s puppet show given either before or after the Mass into footage of the Cardinal’s homily.

    Furthermore, this Mass wasn’t even organised by the Cardinal in the first place.

  • jdumon

    Who is the end ruler in that issue of denying or not denying communion to public sinners like those who support abortion or gay marriage? Is this a bishop, a cardinal or the Pope himself?
    It is a bid odd that the Pope prefers to “stay back” while closing his eyes on his assistants participating in what he himself deems to name a true sacrilege, the desecration of the Holy Eucharist, the true Body of Christ.

    I don’t want to be “judgemental”, but wouldn’t our Holy Father be better inspired in ordering one of his assistants to recall aloud, just before distributing the communion begans, that public sinners must abstain from enter the line or they would be denied publicly?

  • jdumon

    There is a difference, yes, between an individual who takes “the morning after pill” (thus truly performing an abortion) but who may repent a few minutes later, go to confession and be given the Eucharist, and an public man, a politician who since long is publicly supporting abortion.

    For this last one, going anonymously to confession is not enough: The Canon law mandatorily requires that he makes a public retractation in the newspapers or during a TV interview.

    Can you imagine Mrs Pelosi or Mr Biden, true judases who present themselves in the communion line at the papal mass, doing such a retraction?

    I hope so, and I pray they will do it before God will call them to account of the blood of millions of mudered babies.

  • jdumon

    There is a difference: Those priests, bishops, nuns who have abused children many times, so far as I know, have not publicly supported the paedophilia. The priest who gives them the Eucharist cannot know if they did or didn’t confessed before, so far as he knows they are paedophile people .

    In the case of a public man, everybody knows that he supports the abortion, and, as long as he has not made a public act of repentance, he should be denied communion.

  • jdumon

    Matthew, you are wrong: In the case of a politic man, publicly supporting abortion or gay marriage is an object of public scandal. If he stubbornly is continuing to call himself a catholic while knowing that he is in contradiction with the Church’s teachings he sows the confusion and the trouble in the faithful’s minds. Giving them knowingly the communion is giving the green signal to the catholic faithfuls thinking that the abortion isn’t a serious sin, and that taking the communion in that state sinful state isn’t a sacrilege.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.abraham.37 Matthew Abraham

    and who are you to say, judge and jury,. you missed my point, where is God in all this? it is Him that we offend.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.abraham.37 Matthew Abraham

    you missed my point too.WE HAVE NOT THE RIGHT TO JUDGE OTHERS IF YOU DONT BELIEVE THAT THEN YOU DONT KNOW GOD

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.abraham.37 Matthew Abraham

    God is.

  • whytheworldisending

    If someone doesn’t follow Church teaching, doesn’t believe the Gospels, and doesn’t believe that Christ is the Son of God, why would they care whether they should be receiving Holy Communion or not?

  • jdumon

    Where do you see that I am “judging others” ? Judging means condemning, and I don’t condemn anybody since only our holy mother the Church has the right to judge and condemn a faithful when he errs, through the Canon laws.
    But God has given us cleverness through the Holy Spirit to discern what is right from what is wrong. Is pointing the finger to what is wrong a sin? The Gospel reminds us that we have an obligation to warn our christian brother when he is wrong. That is not condemning him.
    Do you really think it is better not warning him and thus letting him to follow the path to Hell, and partaking in his damnation?

  • mattling

    As far as I can tell there are very few people that choose not to receive communion, and those that do choose not to receive often come forward for a blessing (sometimes, unfortunately, from an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and I say unfortunately here because it is not in an EMHC’s role, rather than there are EMHC’s at all.) We all should acknowledge that the riches entrusted in us in the form of the Eucharist should not be squandered, or profaned. If we are not properly disposed to receiving communion, we should remain seated and there should be no shame in this because we are blessed as a church with the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, allowing us to be absolved and become properly disposed. If more of us took that personal responsibility there would be no need for EMHC’s at every Mass, there would be no need for our Holy Father to choose not to distribute communion and the good and nice men that are our shepherds would not be placed in a position where they might have to refuse anybody communion, because they are rarely in a position to know, without doubt, the exact disposition of a sinner.

  • jdumon

    The Pope is the vicar of Christ on the Earth. Jesus gave Peter and his successors the power to bind and to rule his Church. If the Pope or the Magisterium rules that the communion should be denied to anyone, that means that God is OK.
    Then the priests, the bishops and the cardinals have to comply and shut up.

  • jdumon

    It is the duty of the priests and bishops to recall those “that publicly defy the Church’s teachings” that they should be denied the Eucharist. If they don’t, that is OUR (we, the basic faithfuls) duty.

  • Tridentinus

    The Church teaches that to receive Holy Communion whilst not in a state of grace is a mortal sin. St Paul says, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgement to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:29).

    I agree that usually a priest is not to know the state of a communicant’s soul and does not usually refuse Communion. However, If a Catholic, publicly advocates mortally sinful practices he is not only guilty by association of the sins the committal he has encouraged or facilitated he is also guilty of grave scandal. If a priest knowingly and publicly gives Holy Communion to such a person without that person having made a public retraction then the priest or bishop becomes complicit in the crimes of that person and increases the scandal to the Faithful.

  • Tridentinus

    That thought has crossed my mind, too. I would think that as the principal celebrant of the Mass he consecrates the Host and Chalice and those who distribute Holy Communion are his proxies.

    It seems a bit odd, too that two prominent, Catholic politicians who advocate and facilitate the sin of abortion can attend a Papal Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in full view of the entire world and receive Holy Communion.